Addiction snuck into Mandy’s life. She had grown up around alcohol being an accepted way to handle pain. When her mother had a faulty surgery that brought opioids into the home, Mandy didn’t hesitate to use them for her own migraines. Pregnancy caused her to back off of the opioids, but the dependence on alcohol continued. Even while in rehab, Mandy didn’t believe she was addicted to substances. However, immediately upon getting out of rehab, she went directly to purchase alcohol. At that point, she recognized the scope of her dependence and realized that she had developed an addiction. After an unsuccessful attempt to take her own life, Mandy made some changes, and with the help of her grandfather, her Lord, and a lot of hard work, she not only began a journey of recovery from addiction–she got her son back as well. This is her story.
While Mikey was growing up, his parents both had two to three jobs; they were doing their best to support their three children, of which Mikey was the youngest. Because his sisters were five and eight years older, Mikey began staying home alone when he was young—to his recollection, he was only six or seven years old. He learned to only rely on himself, to solve his own problems. While this sounds good in theory, young Mikey’s way of dealing with problems wasn’t to address them or talk about them with someone—it was to bury them and ease the pain by self-medicating in the form of drugs and alcohol.
Mikey was introduced to alcohol and cannabis at the young age of 13. By the end of high school, he had also used cocaine and meth. He even tried acid at one point. A year after high school, he was playing in a local men’s basketball league and blew out his ACL and meniscus in his right knee. That led to his introduction to opiates.
Already primed for a substance misused disorder due in part to his early introduction to drugs and alcohol, Mikey developed an opioid addiction quickly. A year later, Mikey blew out his other knee. That led to a series of three major knee surgeries across three years, and Mikey was on opioids the entire time. When his prescriptions were gone, he obtained opioids from others. Whenever he couldn’t get opioids, he turned to heavy alcohol use.
Addiction Tightens Its Hold
“Even though [the drugs and alcohol] are the things that are screwing you up in the long run, you don’t see it right there in the moment,” Mikey explained. “It’s a social thing at first, like you’re doing it, you’re having a good time and as time progresses, you don’t notice it becoming a problem. You don’t notice that you’re not doing it to have a good time, you’re doing it so you don’t have to feel things anymore. You’re doing it as a daily routine. It’s not even fun anymore, you’re just doing it because you need to do it. You don’t really need, it, but that’s what addiction does to you. Your body starts relying on it to feel happy and feel normal. Your brain starts being tricked to thinking that is normal.”
Already feeling rather isolated, Mikey then experienced one of the worst weeks of his life while he was in active addiction, when his father unexpectedly passed away in Mikey’s arms. In that one week, Mikey attended funeral services not just for his father, but also his best friend, who had passed away previously from an overdose.
“My dad and I had a very up and down relationship my whole life,” Mikey said. His father, being a teacher and a coach, was tough on Mikey, to the point where the son felt he couldn’t live up to his father’s standards. For example, after a game, his father would give a general compliment followed up by a slew of bluntly honest feedback and criticisms about what mistakes were made and what could have been done better. Mikey’s father wasn’t demonstrative or verbal about his love for his son. “I can tell you how many times my dad probably told me he loved me or was proud of me or one to two hands my entire life,” Mikey said.
Regardless of how tough his father was on him, however, Mikey was devastated when his father died. “When that happened, it destroyed me,” Mikey said. “I had nightmares of him dying. I couldn’t go into our living room of our house. I drowned myself in alcohol and as much opiates as I could find. There are so many things you want to say when you’re not expecting to lose somebody. All these things you ever wanted to say come back to you, and you don’t know how to deal with them.”
“It wasn’t really until after he died that I realized like my dad didn’t tell me he loved me, but he showed me my entire life,” added Mikey. He recalled his father coming home after long days and still taking the time to go play basketball outside with him.
The Endless Cycle
About a year after his father died, Mikey got his first DUI. When he went to hospital, his blood alcohol content was a life-threatening .312.
“You’re extremely selfish human being when you’re an addict,” he said. “You don’t think about anyone else except for you and the good time you’re trying to have. It’s such a [lousy] way to live. I can see it now, but when you’re in it you just you don’t know. You don’t see the people you’re hurting or see the chances you’re taking that can hurt other human beings.”
Mikey continued to work, never missing a day, no matter how horrible he felt. He used substances during the day whenever he needed to do so to feel normal. Even his girlfriend didn’t know he was misusing substances. Eventually, he was introduced to heroin. After just a few uses, he almost overdosed because it was laced with fentanyl. That didn’t stop him from using opioids, because the withdrawal symptoms—the body aches, the nausea, the cold sweats—made him miserable.
His sense of loneliness and isolation increased, and now he was also filled with self-loathing, not just for what he saw as a failed relationship with his father and the DUI, but for everything he thought he had done in his life. “When I was using all the time, I just didn’t think people actually liked me, I thought they were just for being nice,” he admitted. “I always thought everybody was so fake, but really it was the opposite. I mean, sure some of those people probably were but I was the fake one. That hatred for myself went on for years and years. There was a point where I wasn’t a big believer in God or anything else anymore, but the only thing I ever prayed for was ‘Let me not wake up in the morning.’”
By then, Mikey was tired of his lifestyle, but he couldn’t break the cycle. “I didn’t want to keep using, but I did because that’s the only thing that would me get through a day. But it’s exhausting. You wake up and you’re so tired, you’re miserable, and so mad at the world, you don’t even know what to do with the anger. You don’t know even where it’s coming from. You don’t understand all this stuff you’ve pushed down for so many years like and you just never dealt with anything.”
After overdosing a second time on a pressed pill laced with fentanyl, Mikey made a strong effort to avoid opioids. However, his drinking picked up. After his second DUI, he was offered the opportunity to enter rehab. For Mikey, it was as if someone had thrown him a rope in the middle of a freefall.
“I never would have checked myself into rehab, ever,” he said. “I’d never been offered rehab by anyone. No one ever talked to me about it before. For some reason I just was like ‘I am in.’” That set him on the path of chasing recovery.
Fortunately, an advocate helped him obtain Medicaid so he could enter Phoenix House, a rehab in Arlington, VA. “I know it was her job, but she went above and beyond. She listened to my story and had compassion. That was something that meant a lot to me,” he said.
Because it was a bed-to-bed transfer from the jail to Phoenix, Mikey had to spend an extra two months in jail while waiting. He now believes that it was good for him, providing additional time away from drugs. And he can’t say enough about Phoenix House.
“I met some amazing men there,” he said. “I met people that were younger than me, people my own age, people that were much older than me that have been fighting this thing, but it made you realize you’re not alone. There are so many other people that deal with this. Addiction wants you to think you’re all by yourself; it wants you isolated. It wants you alone so it can control you and wants you to rely on it and absolutely nothing else in this entire world. When you finally figure out you’re not alone, that other people go through this…it’s a really empowering thing.” He spoke of Chubbs, who was once a dealer on the streets of inner DC, but now stands on the corner doling out advice and hope for recovery. Of Dave, who helps run the Phoenix House, Mikey said, “He’s just super awesome. He made you feel welcomed as soon as you got there. It was the atmosphere of knowing you’re not alone, and people accepting you. They know that what you have is a problem and a disease, it’s not who you are as a person. For so many years, you think that that’s who you are, but you are not your addiction and you’re a good person underneath.”
Surrounding himself with a support system of people in recovery has been one of Mikey’s keys to his own recovery. He has made good friends within the recovery community. At the Phoenix House, he began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings via Zoom, and he was eventually asked to chair those meetings. He began repairing relationships, and is relieved to acknowledge that he treats his mother better than he did before.
While chasing recovery, Mikey began talking with a new counselor who helped him address his emotions surrounding his dad. She also diagnosed his anxiety, which was a surprise to the outgoing man. When she recommended medication, however, Mikey hesitated. He had originally been put on antidepressants while he was still misusing drugs and alcohol, which was a bad mixture. The experience made him leery of trying antidepressants again. “But she said something very powerful to me while I was in there,” he recalled. “She looks at me and she’s like, ‘Why won’t you take a pill that might actually help? You’ll sit here pumping all kinds of [stuff] into your body for all these years to try to feel better, but you won’t take something somebody’s actually prescribed?’ I don’t know why, but it just clicked. Maybe it’s because my mind had cleared over time without drugs and alcohol in my system.” With the help of antidepressants and counseling, Mikey is making steady progress in dealing with his emotions and traumatic experiences.
Now, after spending more than half of his life misusing substances, Mikey recently celebrated 10 months in recovery, and says he feels better than ever. “When you’re an adult, you don’t want to admit you need somebody else’s help, but you do,” he shared. “You don’t want to admit that you’ve been wrong for 20 years, but you were wrong, and it’s okay to be wrong. What’s not OK is really being stuck doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. It’s the definition of insanity.”
Mikey now appreciates small things in life, like the smell and sight of both the rain and the sunshine, or waking up and going outside to feel the breeze on his face. He enjoys spending time with his mother, his girlfriend and her kids, and, of course, his beloved dog.
He has found joy in cheering up others and helping others, and has set a personal goal to become a peer recovery specialist so he can do both. “I want to help other people see that there is a better way, give them the opportunity,” he said. He hopes to one day be able to go into schools and share his story. Though he knows most teens won’t truly hear what he has to say, he feels that if he can reach just one person, it is worth the effort.
For now, Mikey strives to inspire others through posting inspirational quotes on his social media accounts, where he is also open about his experience in chasing recovery and celebrates each milestone. In return, people have messaged him, thanking him for telling his story. Not long ago, one of his “old” friends on Facebook reached out to Mikey to let him know that he saw his progress and was proud of him. “I told him like you don’t even understand how much that means to somebody,” Mikey said, getting slightly choked up. “It’s a powerful thing for some people you care about to start coming back around tell you they’re proud of you, when really all you’re doing is doing what you should have been doing the whole time, but because of everything you’ve done your entire life, that is a much harder thing for you to do than it is for most people to do.”
A Word of Advice
For those considering taking steps towards recovery, Mikey has this advice, which he learned from the woman who asked him to lead the NA Zoom meetings: “It’s about dealing with it in a productive manner instead going back down that same old rabbit hole. I think about it this way: if you put even have the effort into your recovery that you use to find stuff and use, you could do anything you want in this entire world. Think about all the effort and strength and determination you would use to find your drug of choice, just so you can use another day. Turn that into something productive and you can do whatever you want.
“No matter how bad it gets there can be better days ahead,” he continued. “You have to have hope. Hope is the biggest thing. Having hope and seeing a way out that can get you started. It’s taking it step by step. People think you’re going to get a rehab you’re going to go to some meetings and all of a sudden your life is just going to completely change, but that’s not how it works. It’s a lot of work, it’s work every day, but it’s worth it. You spent years digging that hole, you’re not get out of it in a matter of days or weeks; it takes time. You just have to have faith and hope.”
David started misusing substances when he was just 12 years old, nearly 13. Circumstances had left David, his three siblings with neither parent to care for them. Rather than see them split up, their grandparents stepped in, bringing the four children into their home with their own children, four of whom were not much older than David. “It was a three-bedroom house, with our two uncles, two aunts and us. Whatever they were experimenting with, I was right there trying it too,” David recalled.
Like many people of that generation, his grandparents didn’t speak about issues such as depression, or flaws in the family. To the outside world, things were great. But for David, his siblings, and even his aunts and uncles, things weren’t so perfect. “I grew up in a home where my grandparents were heavily into church, gone quite a few days, and we were left alone. We weren’t able to speak about issues we were having in house. I didn’t want to stain my family or say I was depressed,” David explained. With no outlet for his pain, David turned to substances. “I wasn’t scared like other kids. I saw it as an escape.”
David started with alcohol, because it was the easiest for him to access. He moved into other drugs during that first year of misuse. “I was diagnosed with chronic migraines and was prescribed Vicodin at age of 13,” he said, “and at the time I was still using alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes as well. I think it was the mixture that led to the downward spiral.”
David misused substances throughout his teens and into his mid-twenties. During that time, he met a special woman and married her, and they had their first child. His wife had no idea that he was misusing substances. “I lived double lives,” he said. “I masked a lot of things, until it got to a point where I wasn’t able to.”
The Turning Point
The misuse went from being an escape to being a need—David had developed an addiction. Then he got into a severe car accident. He had 86 screws placed in his face and his mouth was wired shut. He was given liquid pain medication and told he was never going to be able to work again. Also during all of this, he and his wife had a second child.
The car accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because his deductible had been met, David was able to use his insurance to pay for a rehab while his mouth was still wired shut. The detox process brought to light how much damage he had done to his body over the years of substance misuse.
“I came home, my mouth still wired shut, but I had all this information, I had this spark of ‘I want to go down this path, I want to do better,’” he said. “I was 90 days clean at that point.”
In an effort to stay away from substances, David opted for trigger point injections instead of medication. On the surface, he was making good decisions for his physical health and overcoming the substance use disorder. But it wasn’t enough. “I wasn’t working on myself,” he said. “Being clean wasn’t enough. There were all those other issues, abandonment, anger, resentment, all at the surface, and now there’s no escape from them.”
Just over a year into his recovery, David relapsed. “It was a short relapse because I had been away from it long enough know it wasn’t what I wanted,” he explained. “Right after, I went into another treatment, an IOP [intensive outpatient treatment] program. I was fortunate in that I had really good family support, but it was still tough. I was the only one who admitted I had a problem. Other people in the family didn’t admit there were issues. They wouldn’t talk about it. They wanted to pray about it.”
The next time David entered recovery, which was near the start of COVID, he approached it differently. “This time I felt I was more intentional,” he said. “I got with the counselor. I had tried counseling before, but others weren’t a good fit. This time I was diligent, and during my IOP, I found a really good counselor. I can’t even express how much it helped. It was the first time I felt someone was trying to help me.”
David was also seeing a psychiatrist, who provided a prescription for PTSD. At that point, David was wary of taking any medication, so he never got it filled. After working with his counselor for four months, she asked if she could take her notes into the psychiatrist. David agreed, and the ensuing discussion with the psychiatrist resulted in a different prescription—a low-dose antidepressant. “It took the anxiety edge off of everything,” David recalled. “For the first four weeks, it was an emotional rollercoaster, but there were a few days where I was truly happy, and I didn’t have a reason to be happy. I realized what life could be. It gave me the hope to push forward. The medication wasn’t the answer, but it was another variable of success in my recovery.”
David also started to attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. The culture of complete abstinence was what he felt he needed. “For me, I abstain from everything because if I start with one thing, it’s just going to snowball from there,” he said.
As part of NA, David participated in a home group and obtained a sponsor. Then he met someone who told him about Peer Support. “I went in there open-minded with no expectations,” he said. “It was great, because I didn’t realize how biased I was to just my way. Since my way worked for me, I thought everyone had to do things this way. Going to peer support, I realized there are multiple ways to success. It opened my mind a lot.”
Upon completing the class, David was offered a peer support specialist position, but although he loved the idea, it would have been a significant pay cut from his career—because yes, during all his recovery, he had continued to improve his overall physical health, eventually proving the doctors wrong and returning to work. So he turned down the peer support specialist position.
“That was actually something else recovery did for me,” he said. “It was due to what I learned during recovery that I was upfront and honest about not being able to do peer support. It used to be that I would have agreed to it and then not followed through.”
In the Game Now
David has been in recovery for over two-and-a-half years now. He said, “The biggest difference between now and any other time, is I feel great. During IOP, I started going into woods and enjoying nature. I hunt for mushrooms, do the soundboard at church, host a home group, and I am the sponsor for two other people. Success is coming from not doing just one thing. I have a whole bunch of things that I’m involved in.”
His recovery has also taught him some other important lessons. “Not every day is the best day, but for first time in life, I can deal with life, the whole of it,” he said. “Just because everything has been great so far, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. I have to stay diligent. There were so many years that what I was putting in my body was damaging it, and it might make just as many years to fix that. I need to remember that it’s one day at time, not all at once.”
“This is the first time I was really intentional about not just staying away from drugs and alcohol, but changing things in my life. I needed to be okay whether things go okay or not,” David continued. He explained that during his first effort at recovery, he made conditions about his recovery. “I’d say, if this happens, I’ll stay clean, but if that happens…I was unintentionally creating these reservations in my mind, excuses to use. I had to stop doing that. Life is going to happen with my permission or without it.”
David has also found that the broader perspective he has gained has provided a deeper understanding of himself and his needs. “When I need some peace, I go into nature. When I experience stressors, I see my counselor. When I have cravings, I go to NA or counselors. If I’m having a spiritual problem, I call my pastor. It’s, for me, not just one way anymore.”
David’s story gives hope to others that recovery is possible, and it is that hope that he reiterated as his interview drew to a close. “I used to use for less stress. To see life coming at me and still be able to navigate with the help of a lot of other people, it’s just been working. I get to enjoy this pregnancy with my wife, clean and sober, and just be present. It’s been a long road, but I feel like I can breathe. Another big thing that has happened this time around is that the driving urge to stop everything and use has dwindled. If it’s just that, that’s enough for me. You can come to a point where the urge is gone.
“It’s not that everything is the best, but I’m in the game now. I’m a part of what’s going on.”
Brandi began misusing alcohol after her husband’s death in 2015. Within three years, she progressed through a variety of drugs, eventually becoming addicted to heroin. Now, thanks to her own grit, she celebrates Recovery Month, defying the odds.
Brandi was motivated into recovery when she overdosed two days in a row. During the first, her frightened teenaged daughter found her, slumped over on the bathroom toilet. During the second, Brandi’s friend had to use Narcan to save her life. Those events propelled her on a journey of complete grit, as she entered into recovery from heroin without medication or the benefit of detox. Fortunately, Brandi had other supports, including a 12-step program, the love of her daughter, and her own love of music. The program gave her a support system of people who could relate to her struggles. Her daughter inspired her to be the best possible mom. Her love of music gave her an outlet for her emotions.
Today, Brandi has reclaimed her life and stands amazed and continuously inspired by the renewed relationship with her daughter and her grandmother. She has taken the Peer Support training and strives to reach out to others, to let them know that regardless of the path taken, recovery is possible.
When Sherri was only ten years old, she was being molested and given cocaine. The young girl quickly learned that the drug provided an escape from the horror. For more than a decade, she achieved that escape through various drugs, not recognizing she had a substance use disorder.
“I was pregnant with my son, had a job, had a 401k…I thought I was okay, because I was functioning,” she said. “But I couldn’t stop using.”
Her son was born in 2019, and after that, life became more complicated. Sherri was pulled over and the police found drugs in her car. At first, there seemed to be no consequence. However, when the police were looking for her son’s father, drug charges were brought up against her as leverage.
Her situation got worse when in 2020, she diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “I was blind, couldn’t see,” she said. “I lost ability to speak, to use my hands.” Through it all, she continued to use drugs, including meth, outright rejecting her therapist’s suggestion that she attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. “I told him, ‘I don’t want to go to meetings. That’s for losers.’ I was so close-minded about the fact that it could help me,” she recalled.
The Turning Point
March 2021 brought Sherri to court. When she arrived for her pre-trial, she was high, and suddenly she found herself in jail.
“Being in jail opened eyes,” she said. “I was powerless over what happened to son, powerless over what happened to me. Going to bathroom by myself was a big deal. I was in the Winchester jail, and I met some people who helped, but was my mindset that helped the most. I didn’t want to go back to the way I was.”
Sherri had peer recovery coach while she was in jail, and when she got out, she went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that following Sunday. She went through the first two levels of the program by herself, before she worked up the courage to ask someone to be her sponsor. The woman she asked, Alex, agreed, and then immediately made her go back through steps 1 and 2 again. Sherri didn’t balk; she was determined to do whatever she needed to do to be successful in her recovery. In her case, that included going to two home group meetings each week.
On the Road to Recovery
In March of 2022, Sherri celebrated her first year of recovery. “It was amazing,” she said. “I talked to a lot of people in recovery to learn as much as I could, because I want this to work for me. I have a family now.”
Though her family provided her motivation for her recovery, they weren’t the only relationships that helped her move forward. The people in NA became a second family to her. “When my son had birthday, all people in that room were from the NA meeting I had invited to come,” she said. “They all showed up to celebrate.” And when she celebrated her one-year anniversary of recovery, she was even more astounded, as 150 people showed up to congratulate her and celebrate with her.
Her journey has not been without difficulties. In May 2022, Alex, her sponsor, passed away from cancer. “The gift that she gave me is unmeasurable,” Sherry said. “I will always carry her with me, and she will continue to help other people through me.”
In determination to honor Alex’s memory, Sherri found a new sponsor and plans to continue moving forward in her recovery. “I want to try to help other people. That’s what it’s all about, is giving away what was freely given to me,” she said. “Alex helped me so much.”
On Friday, September 2nd, Sherri celebrated her 18-month anniversary. During that time, her health has improved, her MS symptoms lessening as the lesions on her brain have begun healing. She has also experienced healing in her relationships. She explained, “My family trusts me again. I’m allowed in my brother’s house. My brother wouldn’t talk to me when I was using. Now I’m able to come into his house and talk with him.”
Perhaps the thing she appreciates most is being present. “Before, I was physically present, but not really present,” she said. “My son could get away with anything, because he didn’t feel he had to listen to me. I got him into a preschool, which is nerve-wracking. I’m able to be present for that.”
Words of Advice
Sherri wants others to know that although recovery is hard work, it’s worth it. “I don’t wake up dope sick and I don’t wake up wanting to get high. I love reading now. I read a book every two weeks. The gifts that recovery has afforded me have come over time and are priceless.”
“It gets better,” she continued. “As long as you stay in it. Get connected. Get your sponsor, get in a home group, work the steps, go to as many meetings as you can. They say 90 meetings in the first 90 days. That gets you your base and then you build up.”
Although NA is the path that worked for her, Sherri encourages people to find their own path to recovery. “Not everybody’s pathway is going to be the same as mine. I work with people and say, ‘It’s what you want to get out of it, it’s your recovery. It’s yours.’”
Editor’s note: Congratulations on your 18-month anniversary, Sherri! And thank you for sharing your story with us.
“Life can still throw me curve balls, and it isn’t always a bed of roses, but today I have the tools to cope and I have a beautiful life. I never have to feel alone, unloved, unworthy, or not good enough again. Those lies I told myself were never true…. We do recover.”
Our Recovery Month features continue with Julie, who has overcome an alcohol use disorder to achieve a fulfilling life. Listen to her story and take hope that recovery is possible for everyone. As Julie says in her story: “We do recover.”
You can view more Recovery Month stories on our website:
Raised by a single working mom, Jason was introduced to alcohol by relatives when he was only 11 years old. At 14, he began using marijuana. Though he kept his grades up and had a good social life at school, he began developing a substance use disorder. He moved onto cocaine and crack, then eventually became hooked on heroin. After entering recovery and returning to substance use over and over, Jason finally overcame his substance use disorder. He has been in recovery for five-and-a-half years now, for which he credits his pastor, his faith, his church family, and others who have supported him.
Jason now works in the home improvement industry, but his true heart lies in helping others overcome their substance use disorders and helping teens make better choices than he did when he was a teenager.
For years, people thought a person struggling with addiction, or a substance use disorder (SUD), was at fault for their own struggles. People with SUDs were blamed for not being strong enough to say no, for being too weak-willed to quit.
Now we know that just isn’t true.
Addiction is not a moral failing. No one wakes up in the morning and decides to develop a substance use disorder. It is a process that happens quietly, without the person being aware of it. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes slowly, but always silently, building up in a person’s body until the disorder is in control.
People begin using substances for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is a way to escape emotional or physical pain for a while. It could even be a prescription pain pill (opioid) providing that relief. Maybe it is a way to deal with depression or anxiety, or maybe the person is just trying to fit in with others at parties.
It is important to note that while they may provide a short-term escape, drugs and alcohol actually make depression and anxiety worse in the long run. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, past trauma, or any type of emotional pain, we strongly recommend you see your doctor or seek help from a mental health professional.
The Science (Put Simply)
What happens next can vary depending on what substance is being used, so we are going to put this in general terms. Immediately, the substances react with the brain, causing dopamine and other feel-good chemicals to be released. (Take note that once those fade, you usually feel worse than you did before.)
As a person uses the substance more frequently/regularly, the body begins to adapt to it. The receptors in the brain change, and the person needs more and more of the substance to feel the same effects only a small amount provided before. This is called tolerance. With opioids, this can happen extremely quickly—a matter of days. With other substances, it can take longer.
The video below goes into more detail on the science behind addiction and gives a very comprehensive overview. However, it does contain images of drugs, alcohol, and gambling that may be triggering to some people in recovery.
No Going Back
As the person’s tolerance builds, the brain eventually adapts to the point where the person needs the substance to feel normal. Without it, they can’t function properly. They experience withdrawal symptoms. The person has become dependent on the substance. For some, the dependence goes further—the need for that chemical overwhelms their ability to focus on anything else, even those they love.
There is Hope
It is not always true that someone has to “hit bottom” before they are willing to enter recovery, but there is typically a turning point. Sometimes it is simply a decision or a negative event such as overdosing. Sometimes it is a positive life milestone such as wanting to repair an important relationship. Whatever it is, that turning point, and the journey of recovery that goes with it, is different for every person. And the opportunities for success are better if others walk alongside the person in recovery.
August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. On that day, we will share a story or two of people who have survived an overdose and the journey they have taken since then. Throughout September, which is Recovery Month, we will share the stories of people in recovery. We will share their turning points, their journeys, and how they maintain their sobriety. We hope these stories will inspire others to begin their own journeys of recovery.
If you are ready to begin your journey of recovery, visit our resources tab for local organizations that are ready to help you. Residents of Page, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties may be able to obtain free assistance from our partners at Warren Coalition Counseling Services.
When supporting someone on the journey of recovery, there is a fine line to walk. We long for a loved one with a substance use disorder to overcome it, to live their healthiest, best lives, substance-free. Sometimes that can make us push in a way that is not helpful to them. For example, we may provide well-intended advice and support that is closely connected to expectations. While expectations can help motivate someone, it is important that the person knows that our love for them is not connected to them meeting those expectations.
What It Means to Be in Recovery
We need to remember that each person needs to follow their own path of recovery. We may not agree with their path, but it is not our path to direct. It is theirs. And that path might meander a little. It might go up and down. It might go on a side path for a while. That’s okay.
When someone identifies themselves as “being in recovery,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are substance-free in this moment. It means they are trying their best to get there. Perhaps the road to recovery for someone you know looks more like a deer trail than a highway. That might be a bit discouraging, especially when someone steps off the path altogether, but remember that a deer is getting fed along the trail. For a person in recovery, human connections are the “food” that gives them strength.
Supporting Recovery: Walk Alongside
One of the most important things we can do is recognize and celebrate each step, both large and small, to encourage them and build up their confidence. By celebrating when a loved one makes progress and providing encouragement when they stumble, we can help people in recovery continue to move forward. No one can dictate the speed or path of their recovery, but we can be there for them.
People with substance use disorders usually struggle with more than one substance. So maybe recovery begins with getting through one day without one of the substances. Maybe it’s getting through an hour without any. Perhaps it is finally making that call to a Peer Support Specialist, a doctor, or a counselor. Or it could be the simple yet extremely difficult acknowledgement that they cannot complete this journey of recovery on their own.
What does it look like to celebrate each step forward? It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or grand. Celebrating can just mean an acknowledgement of the progress and/or an affirmation that you believe in the person and their strength to continue. It could be a hug. It could be giving them something small and fun, like a favorite candy bar, a small bouquet of wildflowers, or a card. You could make their favorite dessert or meal, or take them out for a cup of coffee.
Know that this journey is a long one. It is very possible, even likely, that your loved one will begin using again, and how you treat them during that time can make a huge difference in their journey. When someone begins using substances again, they often feel shame. Displaying anger and disappointment around their decision to use again will only add to that. We might think, “Good! Maybe they’ll be so ashamed they won’t do it again!” However, that is not how this works. That sense of shame disconnects the person from you, a person they trusted. They then find it harder to trust others and admit that they need help. Their sense of loneliness increases, creating an emotional pain that can drive them towards substance misuse instead of away from it.
Anger, disappointment, fear—those are natural feelings, and it is important that you acknowledge them. It is how you express them that makes the difference. Yelling, belittling, insulting—those will drive the person away. Instead, try to let them know (as gently as possible) that you are angry or disappointed, but that you still love them and you are always ready to help them move forward again. If you can’t do that right away, it is okay to tell the person that this is very emotional for you, and you need some time to process it. Again, emphasize love and support. People who misuse substances often have a history of emotional pain. They often expect others to abandon them. Your immediate reassurance builds up a piece of resilience within them, so maybe next time, they can make it further on their journey of recovery.
Remember, the journey of recovery looks different for every person. What one person steps over, another person might stumble upon. What helps one person might have no impact on another. While “perfection” might be the goal of a substance-free healthy lifestyle, each step of progress must be directed by the person in recovery. We can hold their hand along the way. It might seem like a small thing to us, but it can mean the world to them.
In the struggle against the stigma of opioid use disorder (OUD), one of the greatest challenges is the stigma of using medication to recover from OUD. Even some members of the recovery community frown upon the idea of using medication, holding to the idea that only complete and total abstinence is truly recovery. This belief can keep many people from getting the help they need.
As we’ve noted before, there are many roads to recovery [link to article]. Think of a child learning to walk. Some “cruise” along, holding furniture before they walk on their own. A few simply stand up and walk unexpectedly. Recovery isn’t all that much different. Some people can quit “cold turkey,” while others require additional assistance.
The fact is, there is no basis for the idea that someone who is on medication is not truly in recovery. Those who use medication to overcome an OUD are actually more likely to remain in recovery. One study of naltrexone, one of the medications for opioid use, demonstrated a 43 percent return to use versus a 64 percent return to use by those who were not using naltrexone.1
MAT vs MAR
Within the recovery community, Medication-Assisted Treatment or Medication-Assisted Therapy is a commonly used term. However, MAT is not a single-prong approach. Rather, it encompasses therapy to address the underlying emotional pain that led to drug misuse in the first place. It may also include support groups, peer recovery specialists, and other support systems.
But in recent years, some have begun to question the term of “MAT,” seeing it as stigmatizing because it only applies to people who have a substance use disorder. We don’t, for example, say that someone who is taking medication or insulin for diabetes is receiving medication-assisted treatment, even though the medication is just one part of their recommended treatment.
To help address the stigma of MAT, some of the recovery community is trending towards using the term MAR, or Medication Assisted Recovery, instead. This helps to place the emphasis on the recoveryprocess, rather than the medication. That’s important because regardless of what path someone is on, recovery is a day-by-day—and sometimes even a moment-by-moment—journey. By controlling the overwhelming cravings caused by addiction, medication gives the person the clarity and opportunity to be able to focus on daily tasks, relationships, and healing. The end goal is overall health and wellness, regardless of how long that takes.
What About MOUD?
Those within the medical and health industry often use the term “Medications for Opioid Use Disorder,” or MOUD, in place of MAT, especially when addressing the use of medication as a stand-alone approach for addiction. There is increasing scientific evidence that this is a viable approach to recovery; however, the more common approach is to continue to focus on the whole person. The best approach needs to be explored with a medical professional.
The term “MOUD” is sometimes used interchangeably with “MAT,” because the belief is that the term MOUD is less stigmatizing. Regardless of which term is used, the important thing to remember is that medication for opioid use disorder is a life-saving treatment. “…just as it is inadvisable to deny people with diabetes the medication they need to help manage their illness, it is also not sound medical practice to deny people with OUD access to FDA-approved medications for their illness.”1
Sources and Additional Information:
Medications for Opioid Use Disorder: For Healthcare and Addiction Professionals, Policymakers, Patients, and Families [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2018. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 63.) Part 1, Introduction to Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Treatment. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535270/
Plymouth County Outreach: https://plymouthcountyoutreach.org/portfolio/moud/#:~:text=The%20term%20%E2%80%9CMAT%E2%80%9D%20implies%20that%20medication%20plays%20a,medication%2C%20often%20coupled%20with%20counseling%20and%20other%20supports.